Berberine is an alkaloid found in a number of important medicinal plant species including:

  • Coptis (Coptis chinensis)
  • Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
  • Mahonia (Berberis mahonia)
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Each of these herbs offers powerful therapeutic benefits towards conditions such as diabetes, heart & liver disease, cancer, and infectious diseases.

Although each of these herbs also provides other beneficial molecules, the leader of the pack and common denominator of the group is Berberine.

In the 1990’s, a team of researchers began exploring the active constituent in these plants to map its therapeutic effects.

This research was very promising, leading to hundreds of individual studies over the past 3 decades. Berberine is now the active ingredient in several hundred nutritional supplements, and over the counter medications for treating everything from gastrointestinal infection to heart disease and diabetes.

 

How Does Berberine Work?

Berberine is an interesting compound from a biochemical perspective because it delivers several unrelated benefits to the body — rather than just doing one thing.

This gives Berberine a long list of benefits on several different organ systems throughout the body.

 

1. Berberine & Blood Sugar

Our blood sugar is kept in a specific range to remain balanced and healthy. If it goes too high it can cause damage to the cardiovascular system, brain, and lungs. If it’s too low we feel low energy and may become sick more easily.

To prevent this, the brain, pancreas, liver, and digestive tract work closely together to keep blood sugar levels between the specific ranges of 4.0 to 5.4 mmol/L. Anything outside this range is considered a problem.

With conditions like diabetes — one of the leading causes of preventable, early death — this blood sugar regulation becomes dysfunctional. Insulin — the hormone tasked with moving sugar from the blood into the cells where it can be used as energy — stops working properly. This causes blood sugar levels to begin rising out of control and starves the cells from the sugar they need to function.

 

One of the key side-effects of blood sugar dysregulation is increased fat storage around the middle, lower energy levels, and inflammation throughout the cardiovascular system and brain.

Berberine offers three main benefits to this process:

A) Protects the liver from fatty liver disease

One of the main drivers of blood sugar dysregulation is fatty liver disease. As blood sugar levels rise, the liver steps in to convert as much of the excess sugar into a more stable form — fat. This is why many diabetics develop excess fat around in the mid-section.

The problem is that as the liver does this, fat builds up within the liver , lowering its ability to do its job and ultimately making the problem worse.

By protecting the liver from fat buildups, Berberine can slow the progression of blood sugar dysregulation.

B) Enhances the effects of insulin

The main cause of blood sugar dysfunction involves the hormone insulin. As the insulin stops working, sugar isn’t able to move from the blood to the cells.

Berberine has been shown to enhance the effects of insulin by as much as 50% [1]. This is one of the most powerful benefits of Berberine as it has run-off effects that benefit the cardiovascular, digestive, immune, respiratory, and neurological systems.

 

2. Berberine & Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death across the developed world and has been for decades.

 

This critical body system requires a lot of energy, to function, and is at high risk of damage due to its widespread distribution throughout the body. Inflammation in other areas of the body, such as the digestive tract, will ultimately cause inflammation and damage in the cardiovascular system as a byproduct. Long-term, this can lead to serious damage in the cardiovascular system, leading to heart failure, stroke, and death.

Berberine offers several protective effects to the cardiovascular system:

A) Improves the contractive force of the heart muscle

Animal studies have shown that Berberine improves the heart’s ability to contract [3], allowing more efficient movement of blood throughout the entire cardiovascular system — which would stretch roughly 100,000 kilometres if laid end to end.

B) Regulates heart rhythms

Animal studies involving Berberine showed that even low doses of the compound reversed irregular heart rhythms in both dogs [4] and rats [5]. It’s believed to offer this benefit by improving the movement of electrolytes in the heart muscle — which is a critical component of contracting the heart tissue.

C) Fights high blood pressure

High blood pressure is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Berberine was shown to reduce blood pressure through several different actions [2]:

  • Bitter flavour stimulates the vagus nerve — in charge of regulating heart rhythms
  • Reduces inflammation in the cardiovascular system
  • Improves contractility of the heart

 

3. Berberine & Immune Function

Most of the Berberine-containing herbs used throughout history are primarily used for digestive tract infections. Berberine is one of the main contributing factors for these effects.

It works through three separate mechanisms:

A) Directly Antibacterial/Antifungal

Berberine inhibits a number of common infectious bacterial, and fungal species, including:

  • Candida albicans
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Salmonella typhi
  • Escheria coli
  • MRSA (multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

 

 

B) Boosts Immune Activity

One of the main components of the immune system is a set of cells known as the T-cells. They serve as the soldiers of the immune system, designed to attack and destroy infectious organisms.

T-cells are also one of the main problematic cells involved with autoimmune disease and chronic inflammation.

Berberine was shown to modulate T-cell activity — increasing activity when levels are too low, and inhibiting it when they’re too active,  attacking the body’s own cells (autoimmunity) [6].

 

Highlights: Berberine

Berberine — the active component in a number of important herbal medicinal plant species — has many uses in the human body.

It’s been studied on its effects for blood sugar regulation, liver health, cognition, cardiovascular function, and immune activity.

As one of the most versatile supplements available, Berberine is a great supplement to keep on hand in your supplement drawer.

Check out our fantastic new Berberine here.

 

Resources

  1. Yin, J., Xing, H., & Ye, J. (2008). Efficacy of Berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism, 57(5), 712-717.
  2. Lau, C. W., Yao, X. Q., Chen, Z. Y., Ko, W. H., & Huang, Y. (2001). Cardiovascular actions of berberine. Cardiovascular drug reviews, 19(3), 234-244.
  3. Shaffer, J. E. (1985). Inotropic and chronotropic activity of Berberine on isolated guinea pig atria. Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology, 7(2), 307-315.
  4. Ksiezycka, E., Cheung, W. M., & Maroko, P. R. (1983, January). Anti-arrhythmic Effects of Berberine on Aconitine-induced Ventricular and Supra-ventricular Arrhythmias. In Clinical Research (Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. A197-A197). 6900 Grove Rd, Thorofare, NJ 08086: Slack Inc.
  5. Ribeiro, L. G. T., Bowker, B. L., & Maroko, P. R. (1982, January). Beneficial-effects Of Berberine On Early Mortality After Experimental Coronary-artery Occlusion In Rats. In Circulation (vol. 66, No. 4, Pp. 56-56). 7272 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, Tx 75231-4596: Amer Heart Assoc.
  6. Ivanovska, N., Philipov, S., & Hristova, M. (1999). Influe of berberine on T-cell mediated immunity. Immunopharmacology and immunotoxicology, 21(4), 771-786.